Marlins close to selecting stadium contractor
By Risa Polansky
In the face of a looming deadline to break ground by year's end, plans for a Marlins baseball stadium at the Orange Bowl site are on track, Miami-Dade County Manager George M. Burgess says, despite ostensible roadblocks.
He continues to predict a November groundbreaking, a date set early this year when plans for the 37,000-seat retractable-roof stadium began to gel.
That was before Miami-Dade and Miami commissioners began tangling over who should police the new facility — a battle still unresolved — and before auto magnate Norman Braman sued over the deal. And it was before a buzz amongst county commissioners that there appear to be too few votes to pass further agreements that would bring all the pieces of the ballpark deal together.
The timetable is still a go, Mr. Burgess said.
The stadium must be ready for opening day 2011, when the team's lease at Dolphin Stadium expires.
Construction experts say it's doable, but warned not to get caught up in the minutiae.
Everything is progressing as planned, Mr. Burgess said.
Hunt Construction Group, the only company in the running now to construct the stadium, is to have its final selection interview today (5/29). Marlins spokesman P.J. Loyello said the team expects to have an announcement today.
The Arizona-based company, which has offices in Tampa and Orlando, was the only one among several interested firms to meet the Marlins' set qualifications. It has since submitted a formal proposal and pricing.
The team is also "in the middle of developing design alternatives," Mr. Burgess said. "We're working with them on site selection."
City Manager Pete Hernandez said this month that officials have yet to solidify where the stadium will sit on the Orange Bowl grounds, but "the idea is for the view behind home plate to be of downtown Miami."
Both city and county commissioners continue to press that their own police and firefighters oversee safety at the new park.
But "that really didn't delay the critical path of development," Mr. Burgess said, noting the arrangement is to be ironed out through an upcoming management agreement.
And of the mounting speculation that enough county commissioners have soured on the ballpark to doom its future: "Frankly, in my view, you know the outcome of a vote after the vote occurs," he said. "To speculate on what the outcome of a vote is going to be before a vote is not something I would ever do."
Commissioners such as Joe Martinez and Katy Sorenson have said openly they do not think the stadium has the nine votes it needs.
Hank Goldberg, dean of Miami sports radio and now of ESPN, said on AM 790 The Ticket Sunday that his sources say if a vote were taken today, the stadium would lose "8 to 5." A preliminary baseball agreement passed 9-3 in February.
Still, plans are moving forward uninterrupted, Mr. Burgess said, and commissioners should see in early July detailed contracts such as construction, management, insurance and non-relocation agreements.
They should lay the framework for a November 2008 groundbreaking and April 2011 opening day, barring no unforeseen issues that could cause slowdowns, he said.
He could not predict potential snags.
"It could be anything. I'm not going to speculate as to what might happen," he said, though he stressed nothing has so far.
"At this point in time, we certainly aren't behind on any of the things we are supposed to do — it is a very tight schedule, though."
Stadium construction experts agree that, though an aggressive plan, it can be done.
But there's no time to lose, they warned.
"That's a good schedule right now," said Frank W. Falciani, senior vice president of Skanska USA Building Inc. "It's aggressive, but not overly so."
Skanska is constructing the $1 billion, 82,000-seat Meadowlands football stadium for the New York Jets and Giants, set to open for the 2010 football season.
He cautioned local officials and the team against getting too wrapped up in "ancillary" issues — such as the policing conflict — at this crucial stage of the game.
"Pay attention to the forest, not that one tree. You've got to make the decision," he advised. "You've got a stadium you have to build, guys — overcome this."
Agreed Matt Haas, project executive with Clark Construction, part of the team that built the newly completed Washington Nationals baseball stadium, "there's no time for red tape in these projects. It needs decisive answers and someone who's focused on making decisions."
To stay on track when aiming for such a lofty target, focus on construction logistics, Mr. Falciani said.
"You have to buy your steel, structural steel, far in advance," he said. "The steel market is extremely volatile right now," with prices "off the charts. It's going to make pricing, cost escalations, a real consideration."
It can be nine months to a year to get steel in hand after placing an order, Mr. Haas said.
It took 8,000 tons to build the 41,888-seat Nationals Park, and about 58,000 cubic yards of concrete.
Steel today costs $1,000 more a ton than it did a year ago, Mr. Falciani said.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics Data's Consumer Price Index reports the price of construction materials up 3.7% in the past year, higher than the 2.2% increase in 2007, but low compared to the 6.7% jump in 2006.
Raw steel and concrete are two materials exhibiting the highest price hikes now, in addition to aluminum and plastic products such as PVC.
The baseball team is responsible for handling the stadium's construction here. A Marlins spokesman declined to comment regarding construction.
Mr. Burgess said he thinks the team is and will be on top of cost and time concerns.
"There are complex logistics in any construction project," he said. "All of that's contemplated as part of the process."
He predicted also that a slower construction market "could lead to better pricing."
Regardless, get in gear early, Mr. Falciani advised.
"Get as far ahead of the schedule as you possibly can," he said. "When you get toward the end and try to make up time with overtime hours — extremely costly and extremely risky."
The construction team on the Nationals project began a year before the stadium design was completed, allowing for a fast-tracked project that came in on time and on budget, Mr. Haas said. After a nine-month design phase, the ballpark took less than 23 months to build.
Pushing to create what Mr. Falciani called "float" — or, extra days that will come in handy later — creates a cushion for potential hiccups.
Skanska is five months ahead of schedule on the Meadowlands project, he said.
Still, "we may get done a month or two months early, but not five months early."
Time is "the one thing you cannot buy," but you can start saving it early on, he said. "You never get an opportunity to get back a day that you lose in the beginning."
Another aspect to consider: the Marlins stadium is to be nestled in a residential neighborhood.
"You're probably going to have restricted hours in working in the morning and working in the afternoons," Mr. Falciani added.
Mr. Haas noted also that "there's always the potential for underground conditions such as contaminated soils."
Mr. Hernandez, Miami city manager, said a few areas on the Orange Bowl site must be treated, but "they're considered to be insignificant. They're not an impediment in any way."
Mr. Haas said his team faced environmental conditions in building the $611 million Nationals Park.
"It didn't slow us down, but it cost the city more than anticipated."
On the privately funded Meadowlands project, Skanska is to pay any extra costs.
Marlins officials have promised to pay for overruns here — except those caused by the governments through contract breaches, law changes or due to other projects to be built on the site, such as a parking garage and possible soccer stadium.
The team is set to pay $155 million toward the $515 million stadium project. The city and county are to cover the rest.
Some of the issues the Marlins project faces here are "not a-typical of what we faced here" in Washington, DC, Mr. Haas said. But "they're going to need a strong leader."
Mr. Burgess is confident.
"Nothing has occurred as of this point in time that would lead me to say that we're behind the schedule that was outlined in the stadium agreement."